Tuesday, July 31, 2012


I've mentioned her before, here and there, perhaps less than I have some other women I knew, but that doesn't mean I loved her any less.  Quite the opposite, in fact--I wanted her to be here for the rest of my life.

Not talking about it, here or elsewhere, made sense.  There was a fear, perhaps, in making too much of it.  Just enjoy it, don't overthink it.  I'd done that before, I always do that, and the implosion always follows soon after.  Maybe this time, with less ornamentation, the simplicity of the design could be more easily appreciated.

Or something.  My metaphors need work.

The point is, Janie's gone.  There was a time when I would have used this space to explore everything, good and bad, and given full vent to my feelings.  But Janie is a good and private person.  You don't need to know the details.  Really, there aren't any details to know.  It's just the nature of things to end.

Hopefully, she's happy, or at least happier than she was with me.  For me, there's just a quiet, empty house.  I go to work, I come home.  I sleep, but I never feel rested.  I eat, but nothing has much flavor.  I go out, but I'm going through the motions.

And sometimes I look for my heart, only to find it gone.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Alvin Sargent wrote the screenplays for Paper Moon and Ordinary People, and throughout his long, long career also turned out scripts for such directors as Robert Mulligan, John Frankenheimer and Sydney Pollack, guys who certainly knew how to tell a story.

Steve Kloves wrote the scripts for all but one of the Harry Potter movies, which are absolute models of skillful adaptation, compressed, streamlined but never abrupt.  In addition, Kloves has written such wonderful originals as Racing With The Moon and The Fabulous Baker Boys.

James Vanderbilt's credits are a little lighter, as many of his scripts have been written in collaboration with others.  One movie he wrote on his own, however, was Zodiac--one of the best screenplays of the last decade.

I mention these gentlemen's names and their distinguished credits because they are the credited screenwriters for The Amazing Spider-Man, which has one of the woefully misconceived scripts ever put into production.

Not that everything wrong with the movie can be blamed on the script.  The decision to reboot the entire Spider-Man franchise came from deep within the bowels of Sony Entertainment's executive suite, and starting over from the beginning, retelling the tale of social outcast Peter Parker's encounter with a radioactive spider, gives the movie a familiarity it could never wholly overcome.

Unlike the recent Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire take on the material, in which the characters were initially college students, this version has Peter in high school, and that's where the problems begin.  For one thing, Andrew Garfield, who plays Peter, can't convince as either socially maladjusted or as a high school student.  He comes off as a brashly confident movie star in his late twenties pretending to be a teenager.

Peter's love interest this time around is Gwen Stacy, and the only reason he's drawn to her is because she's played by Emma Stone, and hey, she's a movie star, too.  Otherwise, he might as well crush on any of the other students in his school, who are all remarkably attractive and also clearly past the legal drinking age.

The dazzling stupidity of the script kicks in as the plot develops.  In a reinvention of the character, Peter is no longer an average guy who develops great powers but a man of destiny, trying to unravel a sinister plot involving the disappearance of his parents.  This leads him to Dr. Curt Connors, a former cohort of his dad's, who works for a sinister but apparently world-famous bioengineering firm housed in what looks to be the tallest building in Manhattan.  Once Peter shows up there, he's surprised to discover the intern program is run by...Gwen Stacy?

I'm sorry...What?  High-tech corporations wouldn't hire high school kids to answer phones and make copies, much less allow them access to top-secret labs, as happens here.  The screenwriters will later need a character to run to the lab to develop an antidote for the villain's master plot, and since they didn't bother providing any other sidekick characters, they needed Gwen to do it--because what high school kid can't routinely crack a genetic code?--even though it makes absolutely no sense.

At this point, early on, the movie is pretty much telling you that it isn't taking place in anything resembling the real world.  Which would be fine, if the world it depicts had any internal logic of its own, but it doesn't.  Things happen just because they need to happen, or else the plot can't move forward.  But again, the plot makes no sense even on its own terms.

Dr. Connors--thanks to a DNA code supplied by Peter, because again, high school kids know so much more than learned scientists--turns into The Lizard, a villain whose evil plan is to...turn everyone in New York City into lizards?  Because they're cold-blooded?  Or something? 

Look, I realize the Spider-Man comic books resorted to some pretty dumb motivations for its villains (Thirty-five years later, I'm still bitter about the whole "Gwen is back from the dead...as a clone!" storyline) but honestly, my expectations for something cranked out on a monthly deadline are a little different from my expectations for a movie that cost two hundred million bucks to produce.  If you're going to spend that kind of money, I expect competence, at least.

And yes, on many levels, The Amazing Spider-Man is more than competent.  Despite being too old for their parts, Garfield and Stone are absolutely charming together, Martin Sheen, Sally Field and Dennis Leary provide fine support, and the whole thing looks great.  The digital effects, in particular, are much more convincing than in Raimi's films.  But so what?  If you build the Chartres Cathedral on quicksand, it's still gonna sink.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Why do Christopher Nolan's Batman movies inspire such awful behavior?

Back in the long-ago past of 2008, a coterie of mouth-breathing fans of Nolan's The Dark Knight caused a minor disgrace to humanity by posting incendiary comments at the web sites of various newspapers and magazines that had the gall to print negative reviews of the film.  This week, in response to reviews of The Dark Knight Rises, they've upped the ante, threatening, among other things, sexual violence towards Associated Press critic Christy Lemire.

The obvious question: What message, exactly, are you trying to send?  Do you think threatening someone will automatically convert them to your point of view?  Wouldn't that more likely cause them to dismiss you and everything you have to say?  (Okay, that was more than one question, but you get the point.)

Even more embarrassing is the whole Bane/Bain thing.  You know the meme: Bane is the villain in the film, Bain Capital is Mitt Romney's money management firm, which one is the greater villain, ha ha ha.  Sensible people would take the whole thing about as seriously as all those Hitler-reacts-to-whatever clips on YouTube, but never doubt the ability of right-wing crazies to overreact.  This was intentional, they say, as if the makers of a movie that went into production two years ago somehow knew who the Republican presidential nominee would be in 2012, and that there would be a fuss over this particular business he ran.

This is nonsense, of course, but it would be equally ridiculous to believe The Dark Knight Rises has no political agenda.  Nolan has claimed all along that the film was inspired in part by the Occupy Wall Street movement, and it seems unlikely his sympathy will be with the 1%.

Still, most networks and cable outlets--who have inexplicably covered this story as if it somehow can be considered, you know, "news"--have treated this particular flareup as a throwaway, gently mocking some of the more rabid conspiracy nuts for believing that a movie based on a comic book could have any deeper meaning.  That "lighten up, it's a superhero" attitude is incredibly condescending, exactly the type of thing to inspire rabid Fanboys to believe no one takes them seriously, that causes them to see every bad review of something they hold dear as an affront to their very existence, thus causing them to write threatening letters--and the whole cycle starts again, a sequel to a movie nobody liked in the first place.

Monday, July 02, 2012


I rewatched 1978's Superman the other night.  It's very much a movie of its time, in good ways and bad, but one thing can definitely be said about it: We'll never see anything like it again.

In a sense, of course, we're seeing lots of movies like it.  Every month seems to bring another big-screen superhero epic, and they're all indebted to Superman, the first mega-budget attempt to bring a comic book adaptation to the big screen.  Watching it now, one can't help but be struck by its sometimes campy attitude, as if the high-powered supporting cast couldn't quite be bothered to commit to the material, but at it best, it succeeds admirably.

What I meant was, we'll never see a movie like it again.  Many of its most impressive visual whammies were created on set, with wires, rear projection and practical floor effects.  It was made well before the CGI era.

And is all the better for it.  Recent special effects extravaganzas, from (the already-dated) 2012 to The Avengers, have showcased apocalyptic visions, buildings, forests, whole cities crumbling into dust, every meticulously-rendered pixel landing at just the right place.  It's the very perfection of these sequences that keep them from fully convincing--no matter how much the computer tries to render some sort of chaos, it looks too designed, too assembled, lacking any of the randomness we would see in real life.

Consider this sequence.  Forgive the picture quality--it seems to be from a badly-dubbed VHS source--and focus on what is shown.

The big effect here, of course, is the falling helicopter.  It's not, in most shots, a real copter--in the long shots of it dangling from the building, it's a miniature, and Lois is hanging from a fiberglass mock-up.  But it still exists, not in the digital world but in real life--when Superman lifts it, it has heft.  We don't just see it, we feel it, and it feels real.

My eye is immediately drawn to the small things that really sell this sequence--the drops of rain on the copter's windshield, the steam and the fog on top of the building, little things that we instinctively recognize as real.  CGI artists could try to simulate these things, of course--though it's amazing how often these things are overlooked --but it would remain a simulation, inorganic, processed food shaped to look like the real thing but utterly lacking the flavor.

There's more to it, though.  CGI is routinely deployed now to enhance everything--even something as prosaic as a car chase is usually somehow digitally enhanced.  But in the days of practical effects, filmmakers were limited to what a vehicle could actually do--they couldn't show it cartoonishly spinning or twirling or hurtling around in a manner defying all laws of physics.  And when real vehicles were being used, when real stunts were performed, the danger on the set was real, too.

As a result, there was a respect for human life you could see in older movies.  As silly as a movie like, say, Earthquake was even in 1974, when it shows buildings collapsing, you see people crushed and killed by the rubble, and we're meant to feel that loss.  The Avengers is a wonderful movie in many ways, but the wholesale destruction of NYC in its climax is remarkably bloodless--we see buildings shattered, but we don't see the bodies falling from them, rubble hitting the ground but no people crushed.  It's devastation as pure spectacle.  It's terrifying, alright, but not in ways the filmmakers intended.